Monday, April 16, 2007

A few plumage oddities

This aberrant American Crow (Corvus bracyrhynchos), photographed by Tom Johnson has seen occasionally on campus by myself and others for the past few weeks. Be sure to check out Tom's other photo work.

Sam Galick also has some neat plumage aberrants that my roommate stumbling across and sent my way. Check out the melanistic Downy Woodpecker (Picoides pubescens), the white-headed leucistic White-throated Sparrow (Zonotrichia albicollis), and the white-headed leucistic Dark-eyed Junco (Junco hyemalis).

Now for some hybrids.

Ben Clock recently completed a plate featuring three hybrid warblers.

Now for a fun little story. Last June, Dave Junkin, a bird bander in western NY, caught an unidentifiable hybrid warbler, unlike any previously recorded. Some feathers were pulled and sent to Irby Lovette at the Evolutionary Biology Lab at the Cornell Lab of Ornithology. Lab tech Amanda Talaba worked out the genetics pretty quickly, but kept mum about it for some time while a small contest was made out of it. Also, Ben Clock painted the hybrid, going by Junkin's Warbler now.

So what is this (very attractive) bird? Who are its parents? Guesses amongst my friends and varied widely, most of them including Mourning Warbler (Oporornis philadelphia) as a parent. Potential second parents included Canada Warbler (Wilsonia canadensis), Common Yellowthroat (Geothlypis trichas), and even some musings about a potential (but very unlikely) inter-family hybrid with Blue-headed Vireo (Vireo solitarius), which the hybrid bears quite a bit of resemblance to. The answer? Find out here. The speculations of inter-generic hybrids were certainly not unfounded in warblers, where genera remain poorly defined and closely related, but Junkin's Warbler turns out to be a previously unrecorded within-genus hybrid. The answer was pretty surprising, in that the hybrid expresses some phenotypes not found in either parent. The white throat and spectacles may be the result of some genes interacting negatively between the parents, or a throwback to an ancestral phenotype, only expressed with the combination of genes from both parents. Very cool bird, overall.

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